Unix and Linux Training Buyer's Guide

Types of Unix and Linux Training

When purchasing Unix or Linux training for yourself of your staff, the first consideration is to make sure you're buying the correct training content. Content is basically divided into two types: user training and system administration training.

Independent Training Providers

So why bother with independent training providers at all? One of the best reasons is to save money: independents can offer Unix and Linux user training classes, often at lower cost than a systems vendor. Independent providers may also be able to provide customized classes more economically and deliver them at your site, or in locations where vendors don't have training centers. Independents are also free to discuss some of the deficiencies that every Unix and Linux version has, and can make unbiased comments regarding competitors' offerings. Instructor quality can be very similar between vendors and independents, since in some cases both vendors and independent providers draw from the same pool of contract instructors.

Certification

Certification wasn't important for the first quarter century or so that Unix existed. But now it's become important, at least in some environments. Some Unix "old timers" brush off certifications, but I believe they're valuable. I have firsthand knowledge of only a few certifications. The Comptia Linux+ certification is considered an "entry level" certification for Linux administration, but I felt the second generation was a challenging and useful test. Linux Professional Institute (LPI) offers several levels of certifcations, and again I found the "entry level" certification was a good test. The Novell/SUSE Certified Linux Professional (CLP) certification is also allegedly "entry level", but I found it extremely challenging. It's a practicum, meaning that rather than answer multiple-choice questions, candidates perform tasks on remote servers.

Training can help with these certifications, but in fairness they all require a degree of memorization - or at least task repetition - that needs to be done outside of a classroom environment. While instructors are obligated not to reveal the exact questions that are on a specific test - and in reality we almost never know, or certainly remember, any specific questions - we can help identify study topics and techniques that worked for us.

Questions to Ask

Here are some additional suggestions for shopping for a Unix or Linux training provider or class:

  1. Ask to see a sample of the training materials. Understand that your provider may not be eager to part with a complete production course manual, partly because of the the cost, But you'll be able to see enough of a sample to get some idea of the content and quality of the materials.
  2. Ask to see course comments from previous students. Naturally, you're not likely to see any negative comments, but if you see a large number of positive responses, it's likely that at least a good number of students found the experience worthwhile.
  3. Ask for the names of instructors who deliver the specific class you are interested in, and ask to see summaries of their qualifications and experience. Understand that your provider may give list several instructors, and may not be able to guarantee which one will deliver your class. Ask how many times in the past year or so someone other than one of the listed instructors delivered the class. Ask about instructor certifications, too. There aren't really any generic Unix user certifications, so the importance of certification is primarily for Linux or Unix-specific administration classes.
  4. Ask to speak to one of the potential instructors. The most important questions to ask an instructor are whether the course descriptions, prerequisites, etc. are current and accurate. Describe yourself (or the students, if purchasing training for others) to the instructor, and ask whether the instructor has any suggestions (maybe for material to study before the class, for example) that might make the training more effective. If you are providing logistics (computers, classroom, etc.), discuss this in detail with the instructor.
  5. Ask the training provider whether a pre or post-class student performance evaluation is available, if you're interested in one. Don't wait until the last hour of a class to ask the instructor to deliver a post-class exam. You can expect any vendor to offer some kind of testing, perhaps web-based, but usually some advanced noticed is necessary. Also, it's very important to let the students know if there's going to be a test at the end of the class, and explain exactly what the results are going to be used for. Some customers use the results to evaluate training providers, more than to evaluate the students, and that's certainly fair. You might actually want to develop your own test, which you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of different training providers.
  6. If you will be using training provider equipment, ask about logistics. Make sure you understand the quantity and quality of hardware that will be available to students.
  7. If you will attend class at a training provider's facility, ask about logistics. Don't assume food will be provided (free or otherwise), or that parking will be free (or even available.)
  8. Ask about cancellation policies.

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